Are you searching for relief from your chronic pain? So am I; almost every day. So I have come across an option that needed investigating. It is Visualization. What is the Power of Visualization? And how can it help me manage my pain?
What is Visualization?
The Oxford dictionary defines visualizing as, “ to form a mental image of, or imagine”. Carrying this definition further in terms of how it applies to pain management, we seek to make the image a positive one.
This becomes the basis for starting to practice visualization. A positive image has to catch our attention to be effective. Some suggestions of a positive image I have read are:
- A beach
- A river
- A sunset or sunrise
- A forest
You get the idea. You are looking to focus on a scene that may create a calm and peaceful state of being. Those suggestions are just that, suggestions. Maybe some other natural setting would be your preference. Or not even a natural scene at all. The key is that it creates a positive response.
But the imagery could be more creative. Other ideas include seeing that part of your body which is painful, as pain free. How would you imagine that? Some suggestions are changing the color of it, say from red to green. Or seeing a healthy nerve, or relaxed muscles. Again, use an image that is meaningful to you.
Is Visualization Different from Meditation?
I think there is a difference. For some time now I have been practicing meditation. I am certainly not an expert, but as I am researching this topic of visualization, I see a difference. The main difference is that meditation focuses on my breathing, and quieting my mind to let go of the things competing for my attention. I am seeking to relax.
Visualization is a more focused practice, where I am seeking to place an image in my mind to occupy my thoughts. I still want to achieve a relaxed state, but through more of a focusing of my mind.
Looking at the Oxford dictionary (again) we find the definition for guided imagery is, “using words and/or music to achieve positive images to bring about a positive effect”. And visualization seems to be the same thing, at least in the goal. In both activities, we are seeking to imagine a peaceful healing idea or thought to bring us peace.
A simplified definition of meditation is taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on breathing and nothing else. Sounds simple enough. In fact, I wrote an article earlier called What is Mindfulness Meditation? which explains things a bit more.
So from the above definitions, and putting this in my own words, guided imagery is used to visualize, and is a more active practice than meditation.
I am researching visualization a bit more because I have been led to believe it may further help me to be pain free. This is because our brain can actually be taught to respond to pain signals differently, because of neuroplasticity.
What is Neuroplasticity?
I have come across this term as I research this topic. And since I didn’t know what it was, I thought I better find out. And explain it here.
Our brain is an amazing organ. When we are young it is developing and changing rapidly. Most recently, scientists have found that the brain can still change, though not as dramatically as when we are young. Yet because it can do this, it is called neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.
Why does that matter here? Because by practicing visualization, we are training the brain to form new circuits or pathways in our brains. And it is pretty exciting that we are able to do that even when we are old. And it means that we may be able to reduce our pain sensations by changing our brain.
So How Do You Practice Visualization?
I am not sure I can fully explain this. But with the above information, I understand that guided imagery and visualization are interchangeable. Other factors involved are:
- Time set aside to concentrate on the practice
- A quiet comfortable place you can relax
- Start with deep breathing
- Do a simple body scan or a progressive muscle relaxation
With that in mind, it is important to have an image in mind to start this practice. Images that I have seen suggested include the above list, or
- A red ball
- A pain control knob
But only go with something you are comfortable with. This is very important to come up with an image that you are comfortable with and helps in your relaxation and that you can relate to. I think it is important to investigate what may work for you.
I hate my pain so much that I want to cut it out of my body. I don’t know if the visualization of a knife doing that is recommended or not. I have to put in more time in the practice. And continue to read about it.
I also understand that some sessions may be revealing, i.e. you might discover something in your past that you have an emotional reaction to. Note these and explore them.
Here is an article that I found really helpful; Visualization & Guided Imagery for Pain Relief (The Complete Guide). The article also offers an app to start practicing this technique. It is free to start. I haven’t used it enough to know when my free subscription runs out. But when it does, it is $14.99 per month, $69.99 for a year, and $89.99 for a lifetime subscription.
Sometimes I recommend products where I receive a fee if you purchase through my links. I do not have any such links in this post.
Also, a book I reviewed, Overcoming Acute and Chronic Pain, discusses this practice further. I recommend you get a copy. Or read my article first to see if it would be something you want to learn more about. They recommend finding a therapist that is licensed in guided imagery. Worth investigating, I think.
Is There Science to Back This Up?
Yes! I like to know that this isn’t some fly by night idea that may or may not work. For one thing, I don’t want to recommend something that doesn’t work. Furthermore, this takes discipline and effort, and if I am going to put that effort out, I expect a result.
However, the study results do vary. And I would really like to see more research on the topic, specifically how visualization can improve pain management. That being said, here are two links for you to read if you are so inclined.
The effectiveness of technical guided imagery on pain intensity decreasing in breast cancer patients.
Effects of Guided Imagery on Outcomes of Pain, Functional Status, and Self-Efficacy in Persons Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.
How Can it Help Relieve My Pain?
First of all, I admit that I was resistant to trying this activity. Some of my baggage consisted of: western medicine upbringing, unfamiliarity with meditation and the related practices, fear, and concern about impacting my Christian beliefs.
Do you have some beliefs and hesitation about the efficacy of this idea? I understand. But, on the other hand, if you are motivated to find pain relief, then I hope you will reconsider and try visualization.
The bottom line appears to be that through visualization, you are retraining your brain to think differently about pain. That’s where the concept of neuroplasticity comes in.
This will take time; time to practice it and time to see results. And it will take discipline. If you can’t give both of those, then visualization may not be for you. I’m going to give it both. I really don’t know what else to do!
Here is a helpful video to get you started.
What About Doing This if You Are a Christian?
The greatest concern we as Christians should have is that we are not opening ourselves up to evil practices. Meditation, visualization, and mindfulness all have Eastern religion trappings. So we must be very careful in our use of them.
Do not seek to have a spirit guide, or let this practice become a “god” to you. Keep your heart pure by being in the Word of God always. And pray constantly. Because of this concern, I am meditating on God’s word as well as retraining my brain to change the pain signals.
This is a fine line to walk, as is most of life. Make sure you are very careful. Even if you aren’t a Christian, be careful! Here is a very informative article about spiritual deception. I recommend you ask God for wisdom and guidance as you explore this concept.
I am not a medical professional. I am a pain sufferer in constant search of relieving my pain. I highly recommend you talk with a professional to get the most out of this practice, and make sure it aligns with your beliefs. The last thing I desire is to mislead anyone into a practice that is dangerous.
But if it helps you find some pain relief, then I am thrilled. I will update this post as I practice this and let you know if it helps. Your comments or questions are welcome.